Foreign ministers have jetted to New York to discuss an Arab plan on Tuesday that calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down after 10 months of a bloody uprising.
The United Nations Security Council meeting comes amid a surge in violence in Syria that left almost 100 people dead on Monday, according to activists. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to be joined by her counterparts from the United Kingdom, France and other countries to debate a draft resolution that endorses an Arab League plan.
The plan calls for an end to the violence, for the Syrian military to return to its barracks and for Assad to hand over power to his vice president before national elections can be held. It does not threaten further sanctions or military action. The resolution is believed to be supported by a majority of the countries on the Security Council.
But Russia is widely expected to veto the resolution, with a top official saying Tuesday that the resolution "is a path to civil war."
"The Western draft Security Council resolution on Syria will not lead to a search for compromise," deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.
Syria spends billions on Russian weapons, Russia has naval ports in Syria and the regime of Vladimir Putin opposes regime change and foreign intervention. Putin, poised to become president again in March, is said to want to appear tough in the eyes of Western rivals. Russia was highly critical of the NATO mission in Libya that played a crucial role in removing Colonel Moammar Gadhafi from power, saying it had overstepped the bounds of the UN resolution.
Instead, Russia proposed to host talks between the Assad regime and the opposition in Moscow, which the opposition Syrian National Council rejected as long as Assad is still in power. China, which also has veto power, opposes the resolution as well and is expected to follow Russia's lead. A vote could take place this week and there is the remote possibility both could abstain, allowing the resolution to pass.
However, most analysts agree that vetoed or not, the resolution would have no tangible impact on the ongoing violence. While diplomats haggle over the language in New York, violence continues to rage in Syria. Opposition activist groups said Monday that almost 100 people died, one of the highest daily death tolls since last March. Civilians made up around 60 of those killed, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human rights.
The Syrian army on Tuesday continued pushing into suburban pockets just a few miles from Damascus that had been under the control of the armed resistance. Clashes were also reported in Rankous, just north of Damascus and Homs, the epicenter of the uprising that has seen most of the deaths.
"The longer the Assad regime continues its attacks on the Syrian people and stands in the way of a peaceful transition, the greater the concern that instability will escalate and spill over throughout the region," Clinton said in a statement on Monday.